IN books and hymns of bygone days, which dealt with the religion of "the heathen in his blindness," he was pictured as a being of strange perversity, apt to bow down to "gods of wood and stone." The question why he acted thus foolishly was never raised. It was just his "blindness"; the light of the gospel had not yet reached him. Now-a-days the savage has become material not only for conversion and hymn-writing but for scientific observation. We want to understand his psychology, i. e. how he behaves, not merely for his sake, that we may abruptly and despotically convert or reform him, but for our own sakes; partly, of course, for sheer love of knowing, but also,--since we realize that our own behaviour is based on instincts kindred to his,--in order that, by understanding his behaviour, we may understand, and it may be better, our own.
Anthropologists who study the primitive peoples of to-day find that the worship of false gods, bowing "down to wood and stone," bulks larger in the mind of the hymn-writer than in the mind of the savage. We look for temples to heathen idols; we find dancing-places and ritual dances. The savage is a man of action. Instead of asking a god to do what he wants done, he does it or tries to do it himself; instead of prayers he utters spells. In a word, he practises magic, and above all he is strenuously and frequently engaged in dancing magical dances. When a savage wants sun or wind or rain, he does not go to church and prostrate himself before a false god; he summons his tribe and dances a sun dance or a wind dance or a rain dance. When he would hunt and catch a bear, he does not pray to his god for strength to outwit and outmatch the bear, he rehearses his hunt in a bear dance.
Here, again, we have some modern prejudice and misunderstanding to overcome. Dancing is to us a light form of recreation practised by the quite young from sheer joie de vivre, and essentially inappropriate to the mature. But among the Tarahumares of Mexico the word
nolávoa means both "to work" and "to dance." An old man will reproach a young man saying, "Why do you not go and work?" (nolávoa). He means "Why do you not dance instead of looking on?" It is strange to us to learn that among savages, as a man passes from childhood to youth, from youth to mature manhood, so the number of his "dances" increase, and the number of these "dances" is the measure pari passu of his social importance. Finally, in extreme old age he falls out, he ceases to exist, because he cannot dance; his dance, and with it his social status, passes to another and a younger.
Magical dancing still goes on in Europe to-day. In Swabia and among the Transylvanian Saxons it is a common custom, says Dr. Frazer, 1 for a man who has some hemp to leap high in the field in the belief that this will make the hemp grow tall. In many parts of Germany and Austria the peasant thinks he can make the flax grow tall by dancing of leaping high or by jumping backwards from a table; the higher the leap the taller will
be the flax that year. There is happily little possible doubt as to the practical reason of this mimic dancing. When Macedonian farmers have done digging their fields they throw their spades up into the air and, catching them again, exclaim, "May the crop grow as high as the spade has gone." In some parts of Eastern Russia the girls dance one by one in a large hoop at midnight on Shrove Tuesday. The hoop is decked with leaves, flowers and ribbons, and attached to it are a small bell and some flax. While dancing within the hoop each girl has to wave her arms vigorously and cry, "Flax, grow," or words to that effect. When she has done she leaps out of the hoop or is lifted out of it by her partner.
Is this art? We shall unhesitatingly answer "No." Is it ritual? With some hesitation we shall probably again answer "No." It is, we think, not a rite, but merely a superstitious practice of ignorant men and women. But take another instance. Among the Omaha Indians of North America, when the corn is withering for want of rain, the members of the sacred Buffalo Society fill a large vessel with water and dance four times
round it. One of them drinks some of the water and spirts it into the air, making a fine spray in imitation of mist or drizzling rain. Then he upsets the vessel, spilling the water on the ground; whereupon the dancers fall down and drink up the water, getting mud all over their faces. This saves the corn. Now probably any dispassionate person would describe such a ceremonial as "an interesting instance of primitive ritual." The sole difference between the two types is that, in the one the practice is carried on privately, or at least unofficially, in the other it is done publicly by a collective authorized body, officially for the public good.
The distinction is one of high importance, but for the moment what concerns us is, to see the common factor in the two sets of acts, what is indeed their source and mainspring. In the case of the girl dancing in the hoop and leaping out of it there is no doubt. The words she says, "Flax, grow," prove the point. She does what she wants done. Her intense desire finds utterance in an act. She obeys the simplest possible impulse. Let anyone watch an exciting game of tennis, or better still perhaps a game of billiards, he
will find himself doing in sheer sympathy the thing he wants done, reaching out a tense arm where the billiard cue should go, raising an unoccupied leg to help the suspended ball over the net. Sympathetic magic is, modern psychology teaches us, in the main and at the outset, not the outcome of intellectual illusion, not even the exercise of a "mimetic instinct," but simply, in its ultimate analysis, an utterance, a discharge of emotion and longing.
But though the utterance of emotion is the prime and moving, it is not the sole, factor. We may utter emotion in a prolonged howl, we may even utter it in a collective prolonged howl, yet we should scarcely call this ritual, still less art. It is true that a prolonged collective howl will probably, because it is collective, develop a rhythm, a regular recurrence, and hence probably issue in a kind of ritual music; but for the further stage of development into art another step is necessary. We must not only utter emotion, we must represent it, that is, we must in some way reproduce or imitate or express the thought which is causing us emotion. Art is not imitation, but art and also ritual frequently and legitimately contain an element of imitation.
[paragraph continues] Plato was so far right. What exactly is imitated we shall see when we come to discuss the precise difference between art and ritual.
The Greek word for a rite as already noted is dromenon, "a thing done"--and the word is full of instruction. The Greek had realized that to perform a rite you must do something, that is, you must not only feel something but express it in action, or, to put it psychologically, you must not only receive an impulse, you must react to it. The word for rite, dromenon, "thing done," arose, of course, not from any psychological analysis, but from the simple fact that rites among the primitive Greeks were things done, mimetic dances and the like. It is a fact of cardinal importance that their word for theatrical representation, drama, is own cousin to their word for rite, dromenon; drama also means "thing done." Greek linguistic instinct pointed plainly to the fact that art and ritual are near relations. To this fact of crucial importance for our argument we shall return later. But from the outset it should be borne in mind that in these two Greek words, dromenon and
drama, in their exact meaning, their relation and their distinction, we have the keynote and clue to our whole discussion.
For the moment we have to note that the Greek word for rite, dromenon, "thing done," is not strictly adequate. It omits a factor of prime importance; it includes too much and not enough. All "things done" are not rites. You may shrink back from a blow; that is the expression of an emotion, that is a reaction to a stimulus, but that is not a rite. You may digest your dinner; that is a thing done, and a thing of high importance, but it is not a rite.
One element in the rite we have already observed, and that is, that it be done collectively, by a number of persons feeling the same emotion. A meal digested alone is certainly no rite; a meal eaten in common, under the influence of a common emotion, may, and often does, tend to become a rite.
Collectivity and emotional tension, two elements that tend to turn the simple reaction into a rite, are--specially among primitive peoples--closely associated, indeed scarcely separable. The individual among savages
has but a thin and meagre personality; high emotional tension is to him only caused and maintained by a thing felt socially; it is what the tribe feels that is sacred, that is matter for ritual. He may make by himself excited movements, he may leap for joy, for fear; but unless these movements are made by the tribe together they will not become rhythmical; they will probably lack intensity, and certainly permanence. Intensity, then, and collectivity go together, and both are necessary for ritual, but both may be present without constituting art; we have not yet touched the dividing line between art and ritual. When and how does the dromenon, the rite done, pass over into the drama?
The genius of the Greek language felt, before it consciously knew, the difference. This feeling ahead for distinctions is characteristic of all languages, as has been well shown by Mr. Pearsall Smith 1 in another manual of our series. It is an instinctive process arising independently of reason, though afterwards justified by it. What, then, is the distinction between art and ritual which the genius of the
[paragraph continues] Greek language felt after, when it used the two words dromenon and drama for two different sorts of "things done"? To answer our question we must turn for a brief moment to psychology, the science of human behaviour.
We are accustomed for practical convenience to divide up our human nature into partitions--intellect, will, the emotions, the passions--with further subdivisions, e. g. of the intellect into reason, imagination, and the like. These partitions we are apt to arrange into a sort of order of merit or as it is called a hierarchy, with Reason as head and crown, and under her sway the emotions and passions. The result of establishing this hierarchy is that the impulsive side of our nature comes off badly, the passions and even the emotions lying under a certain ban. This popular psychology is really a convenient and perhaps indispensable mythology. Reason, the emotions, and the will have no more separate existences than Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva.
A more fruitful way of looking at our human constitution is to see it, not as a bundle of separate faculties, but as a sort of
continuous cycle of activities. What really happens is, putting it very roughly, something of this sort. To each one of us the world is, or seems to be, eternally divided into two halves. On the one side is ourself, on the other all the rest of things. All our action, our behaviour, our life, is a relation between these two halves, and that behaviour seems to have three, not divisions, but stages. The outside world, the other half, the object if we like so to call it, acts upon us, gets at us through our senses. We hear or see or taste or feel something; to put it roughly, we perceive something, and as we perceive it, so, instantly, we feel about it, towards it, we have emotion. And, instantly again, that emotion becomes a motive-power, we re-act towards the object that got at us, we want to alter it or our relation to it. If we did not perceive we should not feel, if we did not feel we should not act. When we talk--as we almost must talk--of Reason, the Emotions, or the Passions and the Will leading to action, we think of the three stages or aspects of our behaviour as separable and even perhaps hostile; we want, perhaps, to purge the intellect from all infection of the emotions. But in reality, though at a given
moment one or the other element, knowing, feeling, or acting, may be dominant in our consciousness, the rest are always immanent.
When we think of the three elements or stages, knowing, feeling, striving, as all being necessary factors in any complete bit of human behaviour, we no longer try to arrange them in a hierarchy with knowing or reason at the head. Knowing--that is, receiving and recognizing a stimulus from without--would seem to come first; we must be acted on before we can re-act; but priority confers no supremacy. We can look at it another way. Perceiving is the first rung on the ladder that leads to action, feeling is the second, action is the topmost rung, the primary goal, as it were, of all the climbing. For the purpose of our discussion this is perhaps the simplest way of looking at human behaviour.
Movement, then, action, is, as it were, the goal and the end of thought. Perception finds its natural outlet and completion in doing. But here comes in a curious consideration important for our purpose. In animals, in so far as they act by "instinct," as we say, perception, knowing, is usually followed immediately
and inevitably by doing, by such doing as is calculated to conserve the animal and his species; but in some of the higher animals, and especially in man, where the nervous system is more complex, perception is not instantly transformed into action; there is an interval for choice between several possible actions. Perception is pent up and becomes, helped by emotion, conscious representation. Now it is, psychologists tell us, just in this interval, this space between perception and reaction, this momentary halt, that all our mental life, our images, our ideas, our consciousness, and assuredly our religion and our art, is built up. If the cycle of knowing, feeling, acting, were instantly fulfilled, that is, if we were a mass of well-contrived instincts, we should hardly have dromena, and we should certainly never pass from dromena to drama. Art and religion, though perhaps not wholly ritual, spring from the incomplete cycle, from unsatisfied desire, from perception and emotion that have somehow not found immediate outlet in practical action. When we come later to establish the dividing line between art and ritual we shall find this fact to be cardinal.
We have next to watch how out of representation repeated there grows up a kind of abstraction which helps the transition from ritual to art. When the men of a tribe return from a hunt, a journey, a battle, or any event that has caused them keen and pleasant emotion, they will often re-act their doings round the camp-fire at night to an attentive audience of women and young boys. The cause of this world-wide custom is no doubt in great part the desire to repeat a pleasant experience; the battle or the hunt will not be re-enacted unless it has been successful. Together with this must be reckoned a motive seldom absent from human endeavour, the desire for self-exhibition, self-enhancement. But in this re-enactment, we see at once, lies the germ of history and of commemorative ceremonial, and also, oddly enough, an impulse emotional in itself begets a process we think of as characteristically and exclusively intellectual, the process of abstraction. The savage begins with the particular battle that actually did happen; but, it is easy to see that if he re-enacts it again and again the particular battle or hunt will be forgotten, the representation
cuts itself loose from the particular action from which it arose, and becomes generalized, as it were abstracted. Like children he plays not at a funeral, but at "funerals," not at a battle, but at battles; and so arises the war-dance, or the death-dance, or the hunt-dance. This will serve to show how inextricably the elements of knowing and feeling are intertwined.
So, too, with the element of action. If we consider the occasions when a savage dances, it will soon appear that it is not only after a battle or a hunt that he dances in order to commemorate it, but before. Once the commemorative dance has got abstracted or generalized it becomes material for the magical dance, the dance pre-done. A tribe about to go to war will work itself up by a war dance; about to start out hunting they will catch their game in pantomime. Here clearly the main emphasis is on the practical, the active, doing-element in the cycle. The dance is, as it were, a sort of precipitated desire, a discharge of pent-up emotion into action.
In both these kind of dances, the dance that commemorates by re-presenting and the dance that anticipates by pre-presenting, Plato would have seen the element of imitation,
what the Greeks called mimesis, which we saw he believed to be the very source and essence of all art. In a sense he would have been right. The commemorative dance does especially re-present; it reproduces the past hunt or battle; but if we analyse a little more closely we see it is not for the sake of copying the actual battle itself, but for the emotion felt about the battle. This they desire to re-live. The emotional element is seen still more clearly in the dance fore-done for magical purposes. Success in war or in the hunt is keenly, intensely desired. The hunt or the battle cannot take place at the moment, so the cycle cannot complete itself. The desire cannot find utterance in the actual act; it grows and accumulates by inhibition, till at last the exasperated nerves and muscles can bear it no longer; it breaks out into mimetic anticipatory action. But, and this is the important point, the action is mimetic, not of what you see done by another; but of what you desire to do yourself. The habit of this mimesis of the thing desired, is set up, and ritual begins. Ritual, then, does imitate, but for an emotional, not an altogether practical, end.
Plato never saw a savage war-dance or a hunt-dance or a rain-dance, and it is not likely that, if he had seen one, he would have allowed it to be art at all. But he must often have seen a class of performances very similar, to which unquestionably he would give the name of art. He must have seen plays like those of Aristophanes, with the chorus dressed up as Birds or Clouds or Frogs or Wasps, and he might undoubtedly have claimed such plays as evidence of the rightness of his definition. Here were men imitating birds and beasts, dressed in their skins and feathers, mimicking their gestures. For his own days his judgment would have been unquestionably right; but again, if we look at the beginning of things, we find an origin and an impulse much deeper, vaguer, and more emotional.
The beast dances found widespread over the savage world took their rise when men really believed, what St. Francis tried to preach: that beasts and birds and fishes were his "little brothers." Or rather, perhaps, more strictly, he felt them to be his great brothers and his fathers, for the attitude of the Australian towards the kangaroo, the North American towards the grizzly bear, is one of
affection tempered by deep religious awe. The beast dances look back to that early phase of civilization which survives in crystallized form in what we call totemism. "Totem" means tribe, but the tribe was of animals as well as men. In the Kangaroo tribe there were real leaping kangaroos as well as men-kangaroos. The men-kangaroos when they danced and leapt did it, not to imitate kangaroos--you cannot imitate yourself--but just for natural joy of heart because they were kangaroos; they belonged to the Kangaroo tribe, they bore the tribal marks and delighted to assert their tribal unity. What they felt was not mimesis but "participation," unity, and community. Later, when man begins to distinguish between himself and his strange fellow-tribesmen, to realize that he is not a kangaroo like other kangaroos, he will try to revive his old faith, his old sense of participation and oneness, by conscious imitation. Thus though imitation is not the object of these dances, it grows up in and through them. It is the same with art. The origin of art is not mimesis, but mimesis springs up out of art, out of emotional expression, and constantly and closely neighbours
it. Art and ritual are at the outset alike in this, that they do not seek to copy a fact, but to reproduce, to re-enact an emotion.
We shall see this more clearly if we examine for a moment this Greek word mimesis. We translate mīmēsis by "imitation," and we do very wrongly. The word mimesis means the action or doing of a person called a mime. Now a mime was simply a person who dressed up and acted in a pantomime or primitive drama. He was roughly what we should call an actor, and it is significant that in the word actor we stress not imitating but acting, doing, just what the Greek stressed in his words dromenon and drama. The actor dresses up, puts on a mask, wears the skin of a beast or the feathers of a bird, not, as we have seen, to copy something or some one who is not himself, but to emphasize, enlarge, enhance, his own personality; he masquerades, he does not mimic.
The celebrants in the very primitive ritual of the Mountain-Mother in Thrace were, we know, called mimes. In the fragment of his lost play, Æschylus, after describing the din made by the "mountain gear" of the Mother,
the maddening hum of the bombykes, a sort of spinning-top, the clash of the brazen cymbals and the twang of the strings, thus goes on:
"And bull-voices roar thereto from some-where out of the unseen, fearful mimes, and from a drum an image, as it were, of thunder underground is borne on the air heavy with dread."
Here we have undoubtedly some sort of "bull-roaring," thunder- and wind-making ceremony, like those that go on in Australia to-day. The mimes are not mimicking thunder out of curiosity, they are making it and enacting and uttering it for magical purposes. When a sailor wants a wind he makes it, or, as he later says, he whistles for it; when a savage or a Greek wants thunder to bring rain he makes it, becomes it. But it is easy to see that as the belief in magic declines, what was once intense desire, issuing in the making of or the being of a thing, becomes mere copying of it; the mime, the maker, sinks to be in our modern sense the mimic; as faith declines, folly and futility set in; the earnest, zealous act sinks into a frivolous mimicry, a sort of child's-play.
31:1 These instances are all taken from The Golden Bough.3 The Magic Art, I, 139 ff.
37:1 "The English Language," Home University Library, p. 28.